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Facebook

Facebook Gave Device Makers Deep Access To Data On Users and Friends (nytimes.com) 32

According to a report from The New York Times, Facebook formed data-sharing partnerships with Apple, Samsung, and dozens of other device makers, allowing them to access vast amounts of its users' personal information (Warning: source may be paywalled; alternative source). From the report: Facebook has reached data-sharing partnerships with at least 60 device makers -- including Apple, Amazon, BlackBerry, Microsoft and Samsung -- over the last decade, starting before Facebook apps were widely available on smartphones, company officials said. The deals allowed Facebook to expand its reach and let device makers offer customers popular features of the social network, such as messaging, "like" buttons and address books.

But the partnerships, whose scope has not previously been reported, raise concerns about the company's privacy protections and compliance with a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission. Facebook allowed the device companies access to the data of users' friends without their explicit consent, even after declaring that it would no longer share such information with outsiders. Some device makers could retrieve personal information even from users' friends who believed they had barred any sharing, The New York Times found. Most of the partnerships remain in effect, though Facebook began winding them down in April.

Businesses

American Tech Giants Are Making Life Tough For Startups (economist.com) 142

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Economist: Venture capitalists, such as Albert Wenger of Union Square Ventures, who was an early investor in Twitter, now talk of a "kill-zone" around the giants. Once a young firm enters, it can be extremely difficult to survive. Tech giants try to squash startups by copying them, or they pay to scoop them up early to eliminate a threat. The idea of a kill-zone may bring to mind Microsoft's long reign in the 1990s, as it embraced a strategy of "embrace, extend and extinguish" and tried to intimidate startups from entering its domain. But entrepreneurs' and venture capitalists' concerns are striking because for a long while afterwards, startups had free rein. [...] Venture capitalists are wary of backing startups in online search, social media, mobile and e-commerce. It has become harder for startups to secure a first financing round. According to Pitchbook, a research company, in 2017 the number of these rounds were down by around 22% from 2012 (see chart).

The wariness comes from seeing what happens to startups when they enter the kill-zone, either deliberately or accidentally. Snap is the most prominent example; after Snap rebuffed Facebook's attempts to buy the firm in 2013, for $3 billion, Facebook cloned many of its successful features and has put a damper on its growth. A less known example is Life on Air, which launched Meerkat, a live video-streaming app, in 2015. It was obliterated when Twitter acquired and promoted a competing app, Periscope. Life on Air shut Meerkat down and launched a different app, called Houseparty, which offered group video chats. This briefly gained prominence, but was then copied by Facebook, seizing users and attention away from the startup.
The Economist goes on to state three reasons why the kill-zone is likely to stay: "First, the giants have tons of data to identify emerging rivals faster than ever before. Recruiting is a second tool the giants will use to enforce their kill zones. A third reason that startups may struggle to break through is that there is no sign of a new platform emerging which could disrupt the incumbents, even more than a decade after the rise of mobile."
Communications

Snapchat's CEO On Facebook's Long History of Copying His Company's Products (theverge.com) 17

Earlier this week, Snap's CEO Evan Spiegel publicly addressed Facebook's long-standing practice of copying his company's products, joking that Facebook should model Snap's approach to collecting less information about its users. "We would really appreciate it if they copied our data protection practices also," Spiegel said on Tuesday night at the Code Conference in Southern California. The Verge reports: Interviewer Kara Swisher asked Spiegel how he felt about Facebook's decision to copy key Snapchat innovations including ephemeral 24-hour stories and augmented reality lenses. Spiegel first said that his wife, Miranda Kerr, cared more about it than he did. Snap collects less data on users than Facebook does, though it does still allow advertisers to target ads based on demographic criteria that the company gathers. It has never offered a full-featured API that allows users to give away their friends' information, as Facebook once did.

Spiegel went on to say that he looked at Facebook's copying as a designer. "If you design something that is so simple and so elegant, that the only thing other people can do is copy it exactly [...] that as a designer is really is the most fantastic thing in the world," Spiegel said.

Facebook

Zuckerberg Grilled At Angry Facebook Shareholder's Meeting (mercurynews.com) 165

An anonymous reader quotes the Mercury News' report on Facebook's annual shareholder's meeting: On Thursday in Menlo Park, one investor compared the social network's poor stewardship of user data to a human rights violation. Another warned that scandal is not good for Facebook's bottom line. And one advised Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to emulate George Washington, not Vladimir Putin, and avoid turning Facebook into a "corporate dictatorship." Facebook struggled to keep order, kicking one woman out of the meeting within the first few minutes for repeated interruptions. A plane zipped overhead pulling a banner that read "YOU BROKE DEMOCRACY" and advertising Freedom From Facebook, a group of privacy and anti-monopoly activists that are pressing the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to break up the company...

Zuckerberg repeated the same reassurances he used in front of U.S. and European lawmakers earlier this year: The company hasn't taken a broad enough view of its responsibility... "We're also very focused on being more transparent," Zuckerberg said, touting the fact that the company had just posted its policies on content moderation for the first time. Minutes earlier, the company announced that shareholder proposals for more transparency and oversight had failed, surprising no one. Zuckerberg controls the company through special stock that gives him more votes than other shareholders.

"Facebook said that just because the proposals were blocked, that didn't mean the company doesn't care about these issues."
IT

Are Tech Conferences Overrated? (cnn.com) 109

"The tech industry has reached a maximum saturation point for conferences, summits and forums," writes CNN's senior media reporter, sharing his general disillusionment after Recode's recent Code Conference: But even at their best, these events fail to generate truly significant news because executives have been media-trained to the point of impenetrability... [S]peakers like Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi and Spotify CEO Daniel Ek have mastered the art -- there should be a German word for it -- of speaking for 30+ minutes without saying much of consequence or going beyond their comfort zone... [I]n two days, nothing was said on stage that fundamentally changed the existing narrative for any of these companies... Business executives are more strategic and more cautious than ever in how they speak publicly. The business media needs to be equally strategic in pushing them to say more.
He argues that the best things about conferences happen offstage, when attendees network and talk among themselves. Is that your experience, Slashdot readers?

Share your own thoughts in the comments. Are tech conferences overrated?
Government

California City Tries Universal Basic Income Programs -- Including One Targeting Potential Shooters (latimes.com) 271

An anonymous reader quotes the Los Angeles Times: Mayor Michael Tubbs, a Stockton native and Stanford graduate who is all of 27 years old, wants to give at least $500 a month to a select group of residents. They'll be able to spend it as they wish, for 18 months, in a pilot program to test the impact of what's called guaranteed basic income... Workers in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco-Oakland area, driven out of the cuckoo housing markets in those communities, have snapped up cheaper properties in Stockton, accepting the bargain of killer commutes... But Stockton still suffers the crushing burdens of poverty, crime and now the rising rents and home prices that come with gentrification. For those who don't have the education or training to work 60 miles away on tech's front lines, Stockton still struggles to develop jobs that pay a living wage...

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Space X's Elon Musk have both pitched the idea in terms of inevitability, given the growing income gap and the threat of massive job losses because of automation... As small as the program will be, it's not going to dramatically affect many Stockton residents, but the goal is to get a sense of whether such an infusion on a broader scale can significantly alter lives and boost the economy.

The program will be funded by private and nonprofit sources, according to the article. And while it may not start until early next year, Stockton is already launching a similar program where the benefits are more targeted. Stockton is about to award stipends of up to $1,000 a month to residents deemed most likely to shoot somebody... The idea is that a small number of people are responsible for a large percentage of violence, and offering them an alternative path -- with counseling and case management over an 18-month period, along with a stipend if they stay the course -- can be a good investment all around.
The Internet

CSS Is Now So Overpowered It Can Deanonymize Facebook Users (bleepingcomputer.com) 92

An anonymous reader writes: Some of the recent additions to the Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) web standard are so powerful that a security researcher has abused them to deanonymize visitors to a demo site and reveal their Facebook usernames, avatars, and if they liked a particular web page of Facebook. Information leaked via this attack could aid some advertisers linking IP addresses or advertising profiles to real-life persons, posing a serious threat to a user's online privacy. The leak isn't specific to Facebook but affects all sites which allow their content to be embedded on other web pages via iframes.

The actual vulnerability resides in the browser implementation of a CSS feature named "mix-blend-mode," added in 2016 in the CSS3 web standard. Security researchers have proven that by overlaying multiple layers of 1x1px-sized DIV layers on top of iframes, each layer with a different blend mode, they could determine what's displayed inside it and recover the data, to which parent websites cannot regularly access. This attack works in Chrome and Firefox, but has been fixed in recent versions.

Cellphones

Why No One Answers Their Phone Anymore (theatlantic.com) 429

An anonymous reader shares an excerpt from a report via The Atlantic, written by Alexis C. Madrigal: No one picks up the phone anymore. Even many businesses do everything they can to avoid picking up the phone. Of the 50 or so calls I received in the last month, I might have picked up four or five times. The reflex of answering -- built so deeply into people who grew up in 20th-century telephonic culture -- is gone. There are many reasons for the slow erosion of this commons. The most important aspect is structural: There are simply more communication options. Text messaging and its associated multimedia variations are rich and wonderful: words mixed with emoji, Bitmoji, reaction gifs, regular old photos, video, links. Texting is fun, lightly asynchronous, and possible to do with many people simultaneously. It's almost as immediate as a phone call, but not quite. You've got your Twitter, your Facebook, your work Slack, your email, FaceTimes incoming from family members. So many little dings have begun to make the rings obsolete.

But in the last couple years, there is a more specific reason for eyeing my phone's ring warily. Perhaps 80 or even 90 percent of the calls coming into my phone are spam of one kind or another. [...] There are unsolicited telemarketing calls. There are straight-up robocalls that merely deliver recorded messages. There are the cyborg telemarketers, who sit in call centers playing prerecorded bits of audio to simulate a conversation. There are the spam phone calls, whose sole purpose seems to be verifying that your phone number is real and working.

Facebook

Facebook Is Killing Off Trending As It Tries To Revamp Newsfeed (betanews.com) 55

Mark Wilson writes: Facebook has announced plans to kill off the Trending feature of its newsfeed. The social network says that this is to "make way for future news experiences." Over the years, Facebook has experimented endlessly with the presentation of news, and has faced criticism for failing to weed out "fake news" and also accusations of liberal bias. Now the company wants to find new ways to help people find news that matters to them, ensuring that it comes from reliable sources.
Businesses

Facebook, Amazon, and Hundreds of Companies Post Targeted Job Ads That Screen Out Older Workers (vox.com) 169

Older workers are accusing Facebook, Ikea, and hundreds of other companies for discriminating against job seekers in their 50s and 60s through targeted job ads posted on Facebook. From a report: The Communications Workers of America, a labor union representing 700,000 media workers across the country, added the companies to a class-action lawsuit on Tuesday, which was filed in California federal court in December. In its original complaint, the labor union accused Amazon, T-Mobile, and Cox Media Group of doing the same thing. The case, Bradley v. T-Mobile, has major implications for US employers, who routinely buy job ads on Facebook to reach users. The plaintiffs argue that Amazon, T-Mobile, Ikea, Facebook, and hundreds of other companies target the ads so they are only seen by younger Facebook users.

The lawsuit revolves around Facebook's unique business model, which lets advertisers micro-target the network's users based on their interests, city, age, and other demographic information. In the past, equal rights advocates have sued Facebook for accepting ads that discriminate against consumers based on their religion, race, and gender. Facebook has argued that the company is not legally responsible when other companies buy ads that violate the law.

Facebook

Now Even Russian Lawmakers Want a Piece of Mark Zuckerberg (qz.com) 73

PolygamousRanchKid shares a report from Quartz: In an ironic twist in the saga of Facebook's troubles, Russian lawmakers have declared that they, too, would like to question Mark Zuckerberg. According to the Moscow Times, senator Anton Belyakov yesterday offered to invite the Facebook CEO to address the upper chamber of the Russian parliament. "After all, he spoke about information security, not giving access to personal data, preventing the dissemination of harmful content," Belyakov reportedly said, referring to Zuckerberg's meetings with the U.S. Congress and European Parliament. Another reason for those meetings was to discuss whether the social network facilitated Russian meddling in foreign elections.

The U.S. company is in trouble with Russian authorities for disobeying a 2015 law that requires it to store the data of Russian citizens on the country's soil. In April, the state communications watchdog threatened that if Facebook didn't comply, it would face the same fate as LinkedIn, which was banned in the country last year. Much to the chagrin of UK politicians, he (Zuckerberg) has not agreed to multiple calls, and even a mild threat, to testify in front of a UK parliamentary committee.

Youtube

America's Teens Are Choosing YouTube Over Facebook (bloomberg.com) 78

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Bloomberg: Three years ago, Facebook was the dominant social media site among U.S. teens, visited by 71 percent of people in that magic, trendsetting demographic. Not anymore. Now only 51 percent of kids ages 13-17 use Facebook, according to Pew Research Center. The world's largest social network has finally been eclipsed in popularity by YouTube, Snapchat and Facebook Inc.-owned Instagram. Alphabet Inc.'s YouTube is the most popular, used by 85 percent of teens, according to Pew.

Instagram is slightly more popular than Snapchat overall, Pew said, with 72 percent of respondents saying they use the photo-sharing app, compared with Snapchat's 69 percent. But Snap Inc. is holding its own, despite Instagram's frequent parroting of its features. About one-third of the survey's respondents said they visit Snapchat and YouTube most often, while 15 percent said Instagram is their most frequent destination. Meanwhile, only 10 percent of teens said Facebook is their most-used online platform. The Pew analysis was based on a survey of 1,058 parents who have a teenager from 13 to 17, as well as interviews with 743 teens themselves.
The survey also found that 99% of teens own a smartphone or have access to one, and 45% said they're online "on a near-constant basis."
Facebook

Reddit Surpasses Facebook To Become the Third Most Visited Site in the US: Alexa (thenextweb.com) 108

According to Alexa, the Amazon-owned web traffic analyzing platform, more people now visit Reddit than Facebook in the US. From a report: Spotted, of course, on Reddit by user IamATechieNerd, the stats will be a big boost for the social sharing platform, especially with many users still irked about the recent re-design. It's important to note that analyzing web traffic using a tool like Alexa is not an exact science, but it's interesting that it has now put Reddit ahead of Facebook. If the stats are to be believed, Google is still the most visited site, followed by YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook, with Amazon rounding out the top five.
Businesses

Snapchat CEO Says Facebook Copied Its Features, But Not Its Values (axios.com) 30

Snapchat's CEO, Evan Spiegel, told an industry crowd that he doesn't obsess over Facebook's habit of adapting his social network's ideas. From a report: "I think it bothers my wife more than it bothers me," Spiegel said at the Code Conference Tuesday evening. "Fundamentally, it is important to understand that Snapchat is not just a bunch of features." [...] Referencing Snapchat's most famous feature -- posts vanish after 24 hours -- Spiegel quipped, "Maybe Facebook should copy Snapchat's data retention policies."
Television

When Did TV Watching Peak? (theatlantic.com) 178

An anonymous reader writes: With Netflix and Amazon Prime, Facebook Video and YouTube, it's tempting to imagine that the tech industry destroyed TV. The world is more than 25 years into the web era, after all, more than half of American households have had home Internet for 15 years, and the current smartphone paradigm began more than a decade ago. But no. Americans still watch an absolutely astounding amount of traditional television.

In fact, television viewing didn't peak until 2009-2010, when the average American household watched 8 hours and 55 minutes of TV per day. And the '00s saw the greatest growth in TV viewing time of any decade since Nielsen began keeping track in 1949-1950: Americans watched 1 hour and 23 minutes more television at the end of the decade than at the beginning. Run the numbers and you'll find that 32 percent of the increase in viewing time from the birth of television to its peak occurred in the first years of the 21st century.

Over the last 8 years, all the new, non-TV things -- Facebook, phones, YouTube, Netflix -- have only cut about an hour per day from the dizzying amount of TV that the average household watches. Americans are still watching more than 7 hours and 50 minutes per household per day.

Facebook

More Firms Used Facebook To Block Older Job Seekers, Lawsuit Alleges (chicagotribune.com) 223

A proposed class-action lawsuit alleging Facebook's ad placement tools facilitate discrimination against older job-seekers has been expanded to identify additional companies. "When Facebook's own algorithm disproportionately directs ads to younger workers at the exclusion of older workers, Facebook and the advertisers who are using Facebook as an agent to send their advertisements are engaging in disparate treatment," a communications union alleged in the amended complaint, citing a legal test for employment discrimination, filed Tuesday in San Francisco federal court. The union added claims under California's fair employment and unfair competition statutes to the lawsuit, which was initially filed in December. Chicago Tribune reports: The Communications Workers of America is suing on behalf of union members and other job seekers who allegedly missed out on employment opportunities because companies used Facebook's ad tools to target people of other ages. The original filing named defendants are Amazon.com Inc., Cox Media Group, Cox Communications Inc. and T-Mobile, as well as what the union estimates to be hundreds of employers and employment agencies who used Facebook's tools to filter out older job hunters when seeking to fill positions. The amended filing adds Ikea, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and the University of Maryland Medical System to its list of companies who allegedly used Facebook's tools to filter by age. Those three entities, as well as Facebook, aren't named defendants in the lawsuit.

The union alleged in its amended lawsuit that Facebook also uses age-filtering in ads intended to find its own new employees. In January, the union filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint about the alleged practice, according to a copy obtained by Bloomberg News. The CWA says it has filed similar claims against dozens of companies, and that the agency has asked those employers, and Facebook, to respond to the allegations. An EEOC spokeswoman declined to confirm or deny the existence of any complaints.

Privacy

People Are Using Venmo To Spy On Cheating Spouses (marketwatch.com) 102

According to MarketWatch's Leslie Albrecht, people are using the peer-to-peer payment app Venmo to find out if their spouse is cheating. Some are even saying the app is more effective than Facebook at this sort of investigation. "What you're seeing on Instagram or Facebook is what they want you to see," said Abby Faber, a 19-year-old freshman at Indiana University. "They're edited pictures that they put up. But with Venmo, it's very normal casual interactions. It's what they were doing and spending money on." From the report: Some users seem to forget that their transactions are public by default, and their payment activity provides an unfiltered paper trail of what's really happening in their lives. In [Faber's] case, she checked up on her ex-boyfriend and saw he was spending money on pizza and the popular video game Fortnite -- and making regular payments to one girl, who Faber guessed is his new hook-up.

Venmo has had a social component since it launched in 2009. Users see a feed of both their own friends' payments and total strangers' activity every time they open the app, and it's easy to look up users. Exact amounts aren't listed, but you can see who's paying who and which words or emoji they use to describe the payment. The social feed is Venmo's "secret sauce," said Erin Mackey, a spokeswoman for Venmo and its parent company PayPal. In fact, it's usually the reason people are logging on. "Our most active users check Venmo daily and the average user checks Venmo two to three times per week -- and it's not for payments, but to see what their friends and family are doing."
The report mentions a settlement Venmo reached with the FTC last year over its public-by-default social component. The FTC accused (PDF) Venmo of "misleading" users about the fact that they needed to change two separate privacy settings to make their transactions completely private. "Venmo reached a settlement with the FTC, and a company spokesperson noted that users now have three options for controlling who can see their payments," reports MarketWatch.
Facebook

Papua New Guinea Bans Facebook For a Month To Root Out 'Fake Users' (theguardian.com) 86

The Papua New Guinean government will ban Facebook for a month in a bid to crack down on "fake users" and study the effects the website is having on the population. From a report: The communication minister, Sam Basil, said the shutdown would allow his department's analysts to carry out research and analysis on who was using the platform, and how they were using it, admits rising concerns about social well-being, security and productivity. "The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed," Basil told the Post Courier newspaper. "This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly." Basil has repeatedly raised concerns about protecting the privacy of PNG's Facebook users in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica revelations, which found Facebook had leaked the personal data of tens of millions of users to a private company. The minister has closely followed the US Senate inquiry into Facebook.
Education

Code.org Is Crowdsourcing Database of US K-12 Schools That Teach, Or Don't Teach CS 87

Longtime reader theodp writes: Nonprofit Code.org, which is bankrolled by the likes of Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Infosys, has teamed up with the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and is "calling on all educators and parents" to "help us build a database of all schools that teach (or don't teach) computer science" (via direct responses and email advocacy tools). Called the K-12 Computer Science Access Report, Code.org says "the database will be a resource that everyone in the CS community can use." For what purposes, however, is not entirely clear, although the Code.org Medium post indicates the database will be used by the nonprofit and the CS community to "make our shared vision [for every school to teach computer science] a reality." The post cites a 2016 study conducted by Google and Gallup -- which took principals to task for being clueless about what constituted "computer science" and misgauging parental and student demand for CS -- and goes on to add that the new database will allow the organization to "be able to report more precisely which schools do or don't offer this opportunity to their students." As far as a timeframe for the naughty-or-nice K-12 CS school database goes, Code.org reports, "our goal is to gather data for 100% of US schools by the end of 2018." In earlier posts, Code.org has thanked its partners for their help in "changing [K-12 CS] education policies in forty states" (make that 43 states!) and claimed credit for "pressing lawmakers" into unlocking Federal funding for K-12 CS with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Businesses

India's Hotstar Sets New Benchmark With Streaming Record, Draws Over 10M Concurrent Viewers To a Cricket Match (medium.com) 59

An anonymous reader shares a report: An Indian on-demand streaming service, with fewer than 400 employees, has pulled off a milestone that Silicon Valley companies Facebook, Amazon and Google-owned YouTube can only dream about at the moment. On several occasions Sunday evening, more than 10 million viewers simultaneously tuned in to Hotstar, the largest on-demand streaming service in India, to watch the deciding match of the 11th edition of Indian Premier League cricket tournament. The real-time concurrent views, displayed publicly on Hotstar's website, peaked at 10.7 million, the highest any online streaming service has reported to date. It's a big milestone for Star India-owned Hotstar, which first broke the previous top record -- about 8 million concurrent views -- in the first qualifier match in the same cricket tournament last week. In 2012, YouTube reported that its platform saw about 8 million concurrent views on the live-stream of skydiver Felix Baumgartner jumping from near-space to the Earth's surface.

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